3 observations of church revitalization
Aubrey Malphurs affirmed that 80–85 percent of churches in America are either plateauing or in decline and barely 10–15 percent of pastors are equipped to turn them around. David Olson identified that only 26 percent of Americans are evangelical.
It is obvious that American Christianity is hemorrhaging. Revitalization is essential. While I am a huge proponent of church planting, I believe we drastically need to revitalize our churches. It’s not easy and there are many ways, but, as a revitalizing pastor, here are three observations of turnaround churches.
The call of the Gospel
The Apostle Paul declared, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). The pulpit is not for politics, social agendas, or movements, but the expounding of God’s Word, revealing the gospel. Preachers who teach five reasons why you’re awesome, or four ways to overcome depression, are not gospel-centered.
Transformation can only occur when the convicting power of the Holy Spirit begins work and repentance is set forth. “Churches” presenting a false gospel may be growing in size, but they are not growing in spiritual formation and discipleship. Growth and revitalization are not about how big a church gets, but how many disciples it makes.
The captivating call of the gospel will bring a fire to a gospel-centered pastor’s bones—not yelling—but passion. John Wesley once declared, “Catch on fire for the gospel with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
Leadership, innovation, & change
All of these go together. While it should be obvious that lazy leaders cannot bring revitalization, the big issues are lack of innovation and change. In my assessment, innovation and change are key factors of church growth. One of the problems is the roadblock that halts innovation—fear of change.
Think of this: God never does what we expect him to do. Effective church leaders are visionaries, risk-takers, and faithful to God. Look at the plans that God delivered to Joshua (Joshua 6:3–7). Marching around a city and blowing trumpets doesn’t exactly sound like a great military strategy. Revitalizing churches must let innovative leaders lead.
While some statistics show that new pastors spur revitalization, I don’t believe it’s altogether necessary. Church growth comes from the Holy Spirit and the people, not the pastor. The problem is that most pastors of tenure will not receive the ability to lead through change, or may not be innovative. It also may be that there is effective leadership, but the church refuses change. Effective leadership, innovation, and change will stimulate revitalization.
I don’t care how big a church becomes; community impact is important and expressive. Let’s be clear: The gospel and serving community should never be separated—they belong together. It’s not one or the other—it’s both.
Community impact is important because Christians are “ambassadors of Christ” who bring the ministry of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor. 5:18–20). Christians have a duty to serve one another and others (Gal. 6:10). Addiction, poverty, homelessness, and orphans—these are all biblical calls to serve. The call of the gospel impels us to go into our community and serve with love. As Charles Spurgeon asserted, “I will not believe that thou hast tasted of the honey of the gospel if thou can eat it all to thyself.”
Community impact is expressive. In other words, a church’s impact on its community reveals an outward focus of an inward heart. The way that a church shows love to its neighbors shows the way it loves Christ. Jesus said that if you serve the “least of these,” you have served Me (Matt. 25:40).
The big question: if your church were to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community care, notice, or react?
For more information on revitalization, feel free to post comments.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
 David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.
Matthew Fretwell / Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, pastor, east coast director of New Breed Church Planting, and founder of Planting RVA, in Richmond, Va. Matt writes for Church Planter Magazine and is pursuing his doctorate at Southeastern.